Mark’s Blog – May 2019
A moment of great change is upon us, and I’m not talking about the new build. Although the prospect of a new building is indeed a great thing to celebrate, it is, in one sense, nothing to do with the church. Let me explain why. As we should all be aware, the church is the people, and we don’t want to do anything to reinforce the false idea that the church is made of timber, stone, metal and concrete. In reality, the church is made of flesh and blood brought fully alive by the Spirit of God. So, if it’s not the new building I’m, talking about, what’s this great change in the life of the church?
I passionately believe that what we are undergoing as a church body is not a relocation, but a restart. In the waiting time between Old Town Street and Warren Grove we have the rare opportunity to ask ourselves a range of searching questions about who were are and who we are truly called to be. Few churches ever get the chance to take stock like this, stripped of a home of their own for a season, before the blessing and temptation of having ‘their own’ building returns. We must use this time wisely and get ready for what’s next.
Before we open our doors on the ‘first Sunday’ in the new building, we need to have in place a scalable process for meeting, engaging, befriending, connecting and discipling a potentially large number of new people, lest we all suddenly find ourselves with more new friends than we know what to do with. Usually, when any form of revival comes, the influx of newcomers is not the limiting factor. In the recent Reading revival (which started in the Spring of 2016), the capacity of the local churches to handle a significant influx of new people over a relatively short period of time was stretched to breaking point: (https://prophecytoday.uk/images/The_Turning_Learning_Review_public_V_4.pdf)
So, how do we achieve this necessary increase in our people-handling capacity? In the Industrial Revolution, the division of labour was found to greatly increase productivity, as every £20 note reminds us. Yet this discovery was nothing new. The same principle was identified 1,600 years earlier. Ephesians 4:11-13 (ESV) states this: “And he (Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”. Any church that fails to embrace the biblical pattern of Ephesians 4 will likely suffer three things. Firstly, their church leaders will burn out. Secondly, they will fail to make disciples. Thirdly, the church will never get to the mission field, by which I mean, first and foremost, the one on our doorstep.
We’ve been clearly led by the Lord to reconsider this passage, and much more besides, and we’ll be telling something of this inspiring prophetic story over the coming weeks and months. This great change in the life of the church centres on us fully embracing our corporate leadership structure by dispensing with any remaining notion of a paid leader who is able to fulfil all five ministries. We must similarly admit that, up to this point, we’ve probably not been fulfilling all five ministries in the life of the church, so some areas have been rather neglected, perhaps.
To increase our ‘people capacity’ we first need a simultaneous multiplication of senior leadership and an Ephesians 4-style differentiation of those leaders. Following this, the whole church can be more readily mobilised as each leader gathers around them a team of similarly gifted people whom they can begin to ‘equip’ for ‘the work of ministry’. Alongside this focus on senior leadership, we’re beginning to work out a long-term sustainable ministry plan that factors in the likely staffing costs to run the church and the new centre, along with realistic estimates of income the centre might generate to cover these costs, at least in part.
Our new building will certainly be built on firm foundations. In the same way, if we don’t build the church from a new, firm foundation, we will inevitably build on what has gone before and the structure that emerges will unintentionally place too much emphasis on one paid leader. Let’s think team. Let’s think disciple-making. Let’s mobilise this church for mission and get ready to see the Kingdom come in Dawlish as it is in heaven.
As follow-up to this blog, here’s the link to a relevant video shown at the recent church weekend away: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox-bcM6DKzo. Also, here’s the link to the Ephesians 4 fivefold ministry online test where you can begin to assess where God may be leading you to serve: http://www.fivefoldsurvey.com/surveys/new?locale=en. There are 80 redundant questions, so try not to over-think your answers. Be brutally honest about yourself and try to avoid answering ‘sometimes’ for too many of the questions. The more polarised you answers are (i.e. try to say rarely or often as much as you can) the more starkly your true gifting will emerge. Any questions, please do come back to me.
God bless you all,
Mark’s Blog March 2019
As we stand at the very threshold of the new build process, we have a brief moment now to consider the exhausting, faith-stretching and sometimes plain-old mundane, journey it took to arrive at this point. From here onwards, much will be new and fresh and exciting, so it’s good to pause one last time, and consider where we’ve come from.
Back in 2017 we took a bold move, even risky some might say, to sell up and step into the unknown, with nothing to go to – at least nothing confirmed. We have lost some people along the way, some to eternity, some to other churches, but we have gained many new friends and we’re still very much in the game – and we’re well placed to see this thing done in Jesus’ name.
When we sold our Old Town Street premises, we made a move, a commitment; and in some ways, we now need to go again. It’s time to put some meat on the bones, so to speak. It’s time to live out the consequences of the decision we made back at that vital ‘go / no go’ members meeting in Old Town Street.
It’s time to build.
This will take much heartfelt prayer and pre-mixed concrete, liquid assets and steel girders, unshakeable faith and tons of sand, skilful planning and endless teabags, biblical wisdom and reinforced glass, great patience and gallons of paint, gutsy perseverance and great rolls of cable, godly vision and freshly-cut turf.
All mixed together as one thing called church.
And it will take people like you and me being forgiving and sacrificial and loving and faith-filled as we all do our part in giving up our time, money, expertise and prayer for the glory of God. Let’s see this through. The community are watching and wondering. Some find it hard to believe that we are self-funding enterprise of ordinary local people pulling together to follow Someone of great importance who we cannot see; Someone who offers us everything in return for our allegiance and obedience; Someone who gave Himself up for us, so that we might do likewise and give ourselves up for others in His name.
As we anticipate seeing the first of the concrete being poured into the foundations, let’s think about the time, money and prayer being poured in as well. And above all, let this building be built with love – love for God and love for people – regardless of whether they know Him yet, or not.
Mark’s Blog October 2018
To risk it, or not to risk it, that is the question the Gospel of Jesus Christ faces us with every day. We are naturally risk-averse people who often love to play it safe. You might see me as a risk-taker, but, believe me, I’ve had my risk-averse moments, too. Fear of getting it wrong can so easily blunt not only our missional edge, but our very obedience to Christ’s commands. Yet this church has stepped out in faith by selling up and moving out into a new and unknown season. I am encouraged greatly by that fact.
Yet, how easily we can convince ourselves, we would say ‘biblically’, that we do not need to be any more biblical; that we have done enough already. What do I mean by this rather outrageous statement? Let me give you a few simple examples:
“We cannot tithe beyond 10% because we are called to be good stewards.”
“We cannot get involved in any more community outreach because we are primarily called to do good ‘especially’ to those who belong to the family of God.”
“We cannot be the ‘friend of sinners’ because we are called to be ‘not of this world.’”
And the list goes ever on…
Essentially, what we are doing here is cleverly crafting for ourselves a plausible biblical-sounding opt-out, so we don’t have to actually do what Jesus made it plain we are definitely to do.
In this biblical misquoting to suit our own purposes, we can think ourselves very clever, in all our false piety, adding pride to the ever-growing list of subtle misdemeanours. Some of you will remember the series a couple of years ago on so-called ‘respectable sins’?
So, how are we to extract ourselves from this kind of self-focussed bible misapplication?
What we need is what the bible scholars call a ‘canonical’ approach to Bible study – looking at the whole of Scripture, comparing what we are currently reading, not just with the verses before and after (the immediate context), but with the rest of the chapter, the whole of the book, and the broad sweep of the entire Bible. This is the only way to avoid taking passages out of context and checking that what we are believing and saying is consistent with God’s heart – what the scholars might call ‘the whole counsel of God’. To do so requires more than a convenient cherry-picking approach to Scripture study. We need to digest the whole book. As Jesus put it so bluntly ‘teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)
We might already know this in theory, of course, but are we actually doing it? I mean, how biblical are we being, in reality? I’m sure we all have parts of Jesus’ teaching which are somewhat easier or more comfortable for us to obey. But the question I’m asking is ‘do we still use Scripture to justify our disobedience to Scripture’, whether we are aware of it consciously or not? To be on the safe side – no pun intended – risking everything to ensure we are obedient to Jesus is the only safety we will ever find. Let’s assume we are all probably playing it on the safe side, to a greater or lesser degree – I know I do. If we are honest enough with ourselves, and with God, to admit that we have an issue here, then we have a fighting chance of breaking free from this unbiblical habit and seeing something very exciting happen in our church.
The question then becomes, can we allow Scripture to not just inform us, but to also ‘form’ us? Can we allow the Bible free rein to not only read us (Hebrews 4:12) but to change us from within? And can we allow the Living Word to examine and call into question much more than the 5% of information that we currently know, the 5% which is usually open for inspection and rethinking? If we are prepared to admit that maybe we have some areas that we don’t yet have ‘sewn up’ theologically, then the Holy Spirit can really get to work in us, through the Word, realigning our thinking, not to mention our everyday behaviour, around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then the Holy Spirit can begin to unearth God’s truth and plan for us in ‘all things’ and not just the limited areas of our lives where we currently allow the Spirit freedom to roam unhindered.
Mark’s Blog 2nd August 2018
As a church community, we have already been granted planning permission for our new building by Teignbridge District Council. The bigger and better question is what has the Lord granted us His planning permission for? In other words, what spiritual blueprints does He have drawn up in heaven with Dawlish Christian Fellowship’s name written on them? Of course, here I am not talking about our new building, but whatever it is that He wants to build in us – what designs He has on us as His people.
The Bible says that the Lord has works for us to do which He has prepared in advance (Ephesians 2:10). So what does He have in mind for us? On one level, we do not need to over think this. We are not called to do anything different from any other church in the world – to be obedient to Christ by teaching others to obey everything He has commanded (Matthew 28:20), which Jesus Himself summarises for us as to really to love God and really love people (Matthew 22:37-40).
So firstly, we need to rest in the knowledge that the simple desire to please God, pleases Him. The words ‘whatever you do’ (Colossians 3:17,23) imply that it doesn’t so much matter what good we do, but rather in whose name we do it. So let’s not overthink God’s will for us, but rather spend our lives in His name, getting on with doing things that will please Him because they are the very things that Jesus has commanded us to do (John 14:15).
Having done this, secondly, we need to learn to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). This means trusting the Lord that whatever He has brought into our midst, especially whatever has been tested and proven over time, is, in fact, His will for us, as we trust in Him (Romans 15:13).
We each have a unique, God-given calling to serve Him, and perhaps to reflect a particular aspect of His glory (2 Peter 1:10). In the same way, as a church, we are established to fulfil a specific purpose set by Him, in the time and space He has granted us – at one particular place, at one moment in history. So how are we to discover what this purpose is? How can we possibly discern what it is that He is calling us into, beyond the general calling that all churches must pursue?
Let’s start by watching as well as praying. Let’s pay attention to what He is doing, and look for His hand at work in our everyday circumstances. Let’s earnestly pray together much more than we have been doing, and as a whole gathered church, and seek to answer the question: What kind of church has Jesus been dreaming of in Dawlish? Then we just might begin to see something emerge and unfold in our midst that looks very much like God’s will for us.
Mark’s blog – 7th June 2018
Have you ever wondered why you get out of bed each morning? I know I have, at times. If only you could discover the reason you had been made, the very point to your life, then you might be more motivated to get up and go.
Well, you can.
You can, because you can discover your God-given spiritual vocation. And what I mean by your spiritual vocation is not your current or even your ideal job, be that paid or voluntary. Neither am I talking about your personal gifting, your love language, or the ‘sacred pathway’ through which you best hear from God, or connect with Him. It is none of these good things. Your spiritual vocation is something else altogether. And you can only ever receive it as a revelation from the Holy Spirit.
What am I talking about? Let me explain. Your spiritual vocation is the very meaning to your life, your secret purpose, or put less cryptically, why God made you, well, you. It’s what you would still be if you quit your current job. It’s what you will always be an advocate for, what you cannot help praising God for. It’s why you love Him, what you most admire about Him, which of His limitless attributes you find the most unspeakably wonderful. Here is a list of just a few of God’s attributes to get you thinking: Wise, Infinite, Sovereign, Holy, Joyful, All-Knowing, Faithful, Loving, Awe-Inspiring, Limitless in Power, Self-Existent, Self-Sufficient, Self-Controlled, Just, Truthful, Gentle, Unchanging, Merciful, Eternal, Good, Gracious, Patient, Kind, Peaceful, Present Everywhere.
That’s all well and good, but how do you discover this remarkable knowledge about yourself? To start with, don’t look to what you do, or to who you think you are – a grandparent, a manager, a cleaner, a student, or even a Christian. Instead, consider why you do it? What drives you? Reflect on this, by all means, but prayer is the only way you will ever really come to know this, because through prayer, you need God to tell you, through His Spirit, what only He knows about you. What is the secret ‘name’ that He has for you, and by which He calls you in person, and only you? (Even if others profess to have a very similar spiritual vocation, it will feel truly unique and personal to each person through God’s love). Pray deeply, and over time, and share what you hear with a ‘soul friend’ who can honestly test what you have heard, and confirm it for you. They will probably be better placed to see in you what you cannot see in yourself.
Once you have a handle on what it is that you most love about God, it will bring change. Firstly, it will help you to personalise your faith; you will discover something of ‘My Jesus’, rather than everyone else’s Jesus. A glorious foretaste of what is to come ‘…then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV). Secondly, it will help you to make good decisions. We are all inundated with a multitude of choices every day, but knowing your true purpose will help you to say ‘Yes’, and say ‘No’. You can use this knowledge as a decision-making tool to help you stay in God’s will for you. Thirdly, it will change the way you feel about mission, in the broadest sense of the word. Someone once said that ‘availability for mission’ is a key marker of spiritual maturity. Pursuing the very thing God that made you for will be irresistible to you, once it has been revealed to you, so ask, seek, knock (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9). There is no other path to complete personal fulfilment. God’s mission will become your mission. Fourthly, and finally, knowing your spiritual vocation will help you to find God in ‘all things’, not just in some things, which is what Fruitfulness on the Frontline is all about. Discover this and you will enter into a more expansive experience of the reality of God’s sovereignty over all things, and you will find your true place in God’s wonderful universe.
We stand on the threshold of taking possession of the land the Lord is giving us, like the people of Israel in Joshua Chapter 3, on the night before they crossed the Jordan. Like them, we need to take this moment in and consecrate ourselves, ‘for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’ (Joshua 3:5). Are we ready for this? On the other side of the Jordan, once the stones were piled up, a whole lot of fighting began. Are we in fighting spirit? Have we the stomach for the fight?
If we don’t, we can still obey the Lord, by consecrating ourselves and asking Him to come in by His Spirit and impart something into us that will make the difference. Then we go in our frailty, inadequacy and unpreparedness and wait for God to show us just what He can do with a group of people who get right with Him, bind themselves together in prayer, and make themselves available to the world.
Watch this space! Watch and pray and see if the Lord will not take our breath away with what He has in store for us, and, more importantly, for them. May our battle cry be ‘Them, not Us’. Their needs over our own. Our lives spent for their salvation. This is the heartbeat of the Gospel. This is the very thing we are being called into. Let’s take a moment to stand on the bank of the great river we are about to cross and wonder at what is about to happen. This moment will not last much longer…
We’ve come to the end of the 30-week ‘Believe’ series, probably the longest series we’ve ever undertaken at DCF. Thank you everyone for your patience as this series has unfolded over the last year or so. As we moved through ‘Believe’, it become clearer and clearer to us that this material is not a ‘to-do’ list, but a ‘manifesto of grace’ – a summary of what we now are in Christ, and not of what we need to ‘try’ to believe. In fact, because of Jesus, we just need to live like we believe it is true because it is our new reality. We don’t need try to make it our new reality, as if it’s still about our effort; it’s all about Jesus’ performance, not ours.
At DCF, we continue to emphasise that discipleship is not a course, as a course will only ever be a pale shadow of the real thing. Courses are very helpful, but can reinforce the false idea that discipleship is really solely about having more information, or having the right information. Of course, we need to know some new information, but let’s never assume that is what we are pursuing. The ‘What’ we are pursuing is actually a ‘Who’.
To summarise all that we have learnt over recent years – discipleship is hard to describe or pin down because it is not a thing. It is intentional godly relationship itself. Such relationship is not merely a means to achieve discipleship, nor simply the result of discipleship, but discipleship itself. This is because we have a relational God, who can only ever be described in relational terms; some might even dare to suggest that God is so relational that, to some extent, He is His relationships. And the big idea of the Universe, what we call ‘the Gospel’, is that we are invited to enter into this relationality which is the very source of all things.
Now that’s a big idea to come to terms with as we reflect once more upon the God who became a human baby …